OAKLAND – Mike Kickham’s stuff looked firm enough. He didn’t throw any wild pitches to the screen. He didn’t cower or wilt on the mound in his major league debut Tuesday night.
He even got a little crafty, saving his curveball until he faced the A’s lineup a second time.
But the pitches piled up on Kickham faster than Lucy in a chocolate factory. And before he could blink behind those black-rimmed glasses, it was over.
The Clark Kent lookalike threw 65 pitches and that barely got him out of the phone booth. He only retired seven of the 15 hitters he faced and the Giants once again chewed through their bullpen in a 6-3 loss in the shadow of Mt. Davis.
Kickham, 24, was ticketed for at least two starts – Tuesday and Sunday at St. Louis -- before the Giants have the flexibility to whittle down to a four-man rotation for a two-week span in June.
But now the club might have to send out Kickham just to get a fresh relief arm, then play Sunday by ear -- possibly handing the ball to Chad Gaudin in a “Johnny Wholestaff” game.
It’s just the latest permutation of the question Bruce Bochy and Co. have asked themselves all season: “What are we going to do about this pitching staff?”
Starting pitching report
Kickham (0-1) became just the 10th Giant to make his major league debut as a starting pitcher in 17 years since Brian Sabean ascended to the GM position.
It started well enough, with a 1-2-3 first inning. Kickham threw a 92 mph fastball to Coco Crisp for a called strike, he recorded his first big league strikeout when he fanned Chris Young and he even showed good athleticism covering first base to retire Yoenis Cespedes on a sharp grounder to Brandon Belt.
Kickham’s stuff was competitive enough. His fastball topped out at 94 mph, his slider had good, late-breaking action down in the zone and he struck out three of the first six batters he faced.
But Kickham got burned on an inside fastball that Derek Norris cranked for a two-run home run in the second inning.
The left-hander looked tentative to pitch on the inner half the rest of the night, and the A’s appeared to catch on the second time through the lineup.
Kickham broke out a diving, 79 mph curveball to get a ground out from Crisp to start the third inning, but he couldn’t retire any of the final five batters he faced after that.
Young drew a walk, Cespedes doubled and Giants manager Bruce Bochy made his most important decision of the night. He had Kickham intentionally walk Josh Donaldson to set up the double play (as well as the force at home plate).
Donaldson had struck out in his first at-bat, but he also entered the game hitting .397 against left-handed pitchers.
Perhaps Bochy wanted to learn something about how his young left-hander would handle himself with one out and the bases loaded. Or perhaps the manager simply trusted that a big league pitcher, standing on a big league mound, could throw strikes.
Either way, it wasn’t a bad strategy – until it was. Kickham’s 2-2 slider to Jed Lowrie was a ball in the dirt and his 3-2 pitch was just a bit too far outside for plate umpire Gerry Davis’ liking. Lowrie walked to force in a run. Then Nate Freiman followed with a single, driving Kickham from the game.
It matched Matt Palmer for the shortest start by a Giants pitcher making his debut in the Sabean era.
Kickham allowed four runs (all earned) on four hits and four walks (one intentional) in 2 1/3 innings. He struck out three, allowed a home run and threw 36 of his 65 pitches for strikes.
Kickham left the bases loaded but George Kontos and Javier Lopez each retired a hitter to strand them as Bochy took the rare step of playing matchups in the third inning.
Then it was Gaudin’s turn to grind the pestle, and the pace of game didn’t exactly speed up. The right-hander walked in a run of his own in the fifth inning.
After five, Gaudin and Kickham had combined to throw 111 pitches and record just 13 outs between them.
But Gaudin worked a snappy, eight-pitch sixth inning, and as sluggish as they looked, the Giants still had life as they trailed just 5-2.
At the plate
Well, at least the Giants made productive use of the designated hitter. Marco Scutaro singled and doubled – the 14th time in 19 games that he’s collected multiple hits.
Other than that, the Giants just haven’t come to play in four games at AL ballparks. They are 0-4 in Toronto and Oakland, and the offense wasn’t able to rescue another night of shaky pitching.
Hunter Pence hit a two-out, RBI single in the first inning off Jarrod Parker (3-6) but the A’s right-hander faced just one more than the minimum over his next four frames. Scutaro doubled in the sixth and scored on Buster Posey’s ground out. (Parker entered with a 5.76 ERA, by the way.)
Pence hit a solo homer off Grant Balfour in the ninth.
And that was it. The Giants were held to six hits, and 10 total over two games in the East Bay.
Angel Pagan remains out with a hamstring injury and Pablo Sandoval’s bat has the chills. The Giants’ leading run producer is in a 2-for-21 funk.
The Giants played error-free. So there’s that.
The A’s announced 35,067 paid – and the sellout crowd did a good job making the Giants feel like a road team in two games here. Posey was booed solidly in each of his plate appearances.
The Giants and A’s take their Bay Bridge rivalry to AT&T Park for the final two games of this home-and-home series. Tim Lincecum (3-4, 4.75 ERA) ascends the mound Wednesday night against left-hander Tommy Milone (3-5, 5.19). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. PDT.
It’ll be Barry Zito (3-3, 4.13) in Thursday’s series finale against right-hander A.J. Griffin (5-3, 3.84).